Before you read the post below, take note that I canceled Hulu Plus after about two months of use. There were constant issues with the quality of the video stream to my iPad which caused major artifacting and noise. I also had issues with the service randomly quitting and restarting the program I was watching.
One other thing that killed it for me, (and this has less to do with Hulu and more to do with major networks and distribution), The TV programs I wanted to watch were showing up on average two weeks after the original air date. I was under the impression Hulu Plus would guarantee those shows would arrive sooner.
I am still hopeful for Hulu as well as Google TV (I have a Logitech Review), but it might be awhile before all the bugs are worked out.
Yesterday afternoon I got a confirmation email for the Hulu Plus service for the iPhone and iPad. If you are unfamiliar with what this is, Hulu Plus is basically the internet based streaming media service, but it offers first run TV programs, instead of a handful of trailing episodes that come out days after the original show has aired. I know there is a bunch of internet chatter about having to pay a monthly fee, and you still get ads, but before you dismiss Hulu Plus lets take a look at that.
Hulu Plus is using the subscription cost to probably offset a number of costs associated with delivery. That could be bandwidth, storage, licensing fees etc. I don’t work for Hulu so I can’t make a definitive claim to this. It’s just a guess. As for the Ads, well I am going to assume that the TV Channels that are offering the content to Hulu, are asking for some kind of a cut, and Hulu being a smart company said we will let you run limited ads, if you take a smaller piece of our pie. And to be honest the ads aren’t that intrusive. In the last 24 hours, I have watched about 10 shows and in each one, the maximum number of ads has been 4, and the length of each ad has been less than 10 seconds. I can live with that. when you think about it, that is less than 40 seconds of advertising in a 30 minute program. That is far better than live broadcast, and still less time than you spend fast forwarding through ads on your DVR.
So, lets talk about Hulu Plus.
Since yesterday I’ve been using it on my iMac, iPad and iPhone. The quality of the videos are excellent across all three devices, and Hulu’s 720p video streams look as good as Netflix’s. On all three of my Apple devices, The iMac obviously looks the best, followed by the iPad then iPhone. The size and resolution of the screen makes all the difference, and it’s hard to beat what the 27 inch iMac brings to the table in terms of screen quality. The iPad though is where this app shines. You have a portable device with a screen that is big enough to be enjoyable, and in my case it can stream video over the 3G network, so no WiFi is needed.
From a user perspective the iPad app is pretty nice. The UI is clean and easy to use. If you are familiar with the web based version of Hulu you will be right at home with the iPad version.The application allows you to resume any program from the point you left off, if for any reason your session gets interrupted which is a definite plus.
On the iPad the content appeared crisp and clean with no noticeable artifacting of images. Video in the Plus service is 720p and the audio sounds great. Hulu definitely got their encoding right as things like spinning fan blades, wheels and running water in shots have a tendency to show pixelation and artifacting very easily if not encoded properly. Even running the video out of my iPad and in to a 36″ Samsung TV, the quality is still pretty damn good. (although the iPad TV connection kit is only VGA so it doesn’t support 720p playback. Your image is displayed from the iPad as a Standard Definition signal)
While I didn’t see any major problems with the Hulu Plus service, there are a few kinks they need to work out.
I changed my video player settings from auto-select to 720p as default, and the video stopped and wouldn’t start back up. To resolve the issue I had to click the update settings button, and refresh the page. This forces you to have to watch the entry ad all over again. I’m thinking that Hulu will get this fixed, or that it might be an issue with my internet connection at the house. (gotta love Time Warner Cable’s horrid service) There were also some hiccups in the band width at what appeared to be a peak period. Once again this could have been my internet service provider and not Hulu.
As for the iPhone, while it is not the ideal screen size to watch on, the service worked great. Last night during happy hour we entertained a number of people at the bar with streamed clips of The Office. The stream came through flawlessly over the 3G signal on my iPhone 4, and it looked and sounded great. The UI for the phone takes some getting used to, but it isn’t bad. It’s just different, optimized for the phone experience.
One other gripe I have is, when you register. At the registration point they ask you to give your year of birth so they can tailor content suggestions for you. I can see this to a point, but in my case it flooded the content section with shows like The A Team, McGuiver, Dick Vandyke, Alfred Hitchcock presents, etc. Now I’m not knocking any of these shows, they just aren’t my first choices for content to watch. More over there is no way to tell Hulu, you don’t want to see these programs, or favorite other ones. It would be great if Hulu was like Pandora, where it allowed you to like or dislike specific content and it learned from the choices you made.
As for the registration process, it was extremely easy, and required only basic contact and billing information for the $9.95 a month fee. Since portions of Hulu’s content is free, and the Plus service requires a monthly charge, it could be very difficult to figure out which content is free and which requires a subscription. To address this issue, Hulu places a green plus icon next to any content that’s available only with the subscription service.
Whether Hulu Plus has enough content to make it worth paying for is something everyone is going to have their own opinion on, and I’m sure there will be long debates about paying a fee and still seeing ads. From a technical and quality perspective though, Hulu Plus offers exactly what one would expect it should for about ten dollars a month. Frankly if they continue to add in more first run content, Hulu Plus and a Service like Boxee could have me saying Ba-Bye to the cable company for good.